Given all the recent brouhaha about baptism on The Fish Tank (for which I am largely responsible), a friend of mine expressed her concern with the lack of brouhaha about infant baptism – the mode of baptism practiced by the majority of Christians today.
As I thought about infant baptism – in particular, as I thought about why I reject infant baptism – I realized that my beliefs about infant baptism were largely bundled with my beliefs about original sin. Therefore, I thought that the best way to explain my thoughts on infant baptism would be to sketch some of my thoughts on original sin, in anticipation of some productive dialogue on the matter.
Before I advance my argument, I should answer a couple questions. First, what is original sin? Not all proponents of original sin agree about what original sin means. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I will assume (for simplicity’s sake) merely that those who accept original sin believe that we are born guilty, while those who deny original sin believe that we are born innocent. That will be the “litmus test.” (I understand that some people who accept “original sin” probably would not fit into my litmus test; my hope is that we all take the time to figure out exactly what we believe about something like this rather than appealing to ambiguous and unclear labels such as “original sin.”)
Second, why are infant baptism and original sin bundled together in my mind? The reason is that I believe that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 2.38, inter alia), so I see no real justification for infant baptism if infants are not yet culpable for any sin.
Why, then, do I reject original sin?
Well: At first glance, original sin strikes me as unfair. Infants strike me as innocent – and they seem to have struck Jesus in the same way. Infants appear to be incapable of doing wrong, and thus incapable of being blamed for anything.
Of course, the doctrines of Christianity are not always intuitive, so a mere prima facie objection to original sin does not constitute a sufficient argument against a particular belief. Fortunately, however, I am far from convinced that the Bible advocates original sin. To me, Ezekiel 18 presents a huge problem for the proponent of original sin: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (v. 20). It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
What is there to be said on behalf of original sin? The main passage cited in support of original sin is Romans 5.12ff, which discusses our death in Adam and life in Christ. Notice v. 12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (emphasis added). Why say “because all sinned” if Adam’s sin alone is sufficient for us to die (contra Ezekiel 18)? I see no very good reason. This leads me to conclude that Romans 5 concerns a transmission from Adam of a sinful nature – a predisposition toward sin – that does not itself entail guilt at birth. What about vv. 15, 18, and 19 – which suggest, respectively, that we all die, are condemned, and are made sinners by Adam’s sin? I think Adam’s sin is responsible for those things indirectly – because it resulted in our sinful natures, which resulted in our individual sins.
So far, of course, I’ve provided only a brief summary of my thoughts about original sin. But, for the moment, I see no compelling reason to accept either original sin or infant baptism.